We've got the first interview on Bohemia Interactive's next project, Take On Helicopters. Spin up your mouse wheel; come read heaps of info that wasn't revealed in the initial press release.
Evan Lahti: Why helicopters?
Jay Crowe, Creative Lead: Helicopters are awesome and were always an important part of our games. That aside, taking on a clear focus is something that really excites us, but--in truth--it's also a little daunting! Combined-arms warfare has been the linchpin of the Real Virtuality engine for over a decade now. Taking one small aspect, stripping it out and completely rebuilding it with focus and attention--that's a pretty motivating challenge.
Choppers are interesting for the surprisingly wide range of gameplay, and for the rewarding challenge that our flight-dynamics model presents. Combine that with our experience in building rich, expansive terrain and crafting wonderfully detailed models, and we think we're on to something really exciting. We see a great potential for future instalments of the Arma series by moving much closer to reign of flight simulators; however, this would be impossible to achieve if we tried to do it in a project of the scale and variety of Arma 2, rather than a dedicated development.
PCG: Flight in Arma has some simulation-like qualities to it--you can retract flaps and gear, turn on autopilot, planes can stall, but the overall control dynamics are simplified--there's little-to-no “switch-flipping.” How will that simplicity of control compare to Take On?
JC: Perhaps unsurprisingly, precise control over a helicopter is a vital piece of the game. We're definitely taking the fidelity of our simulation to the next level, and we're working hard on some in-cockpit features/functionality that we hope to gleefully present in the near future. Take On is built around a high-fidelity helicopter flight dynamics model, completely different to more the generic, simplified one used in Arma series so far.
That being said, our designers are "encouraged" to ensure that playing with the mouse and keyboard is just as satisfying as it is with a fully-blown flight control set up. Our focus is upon really nailing the experience of flying a helicopter. Authenticity, realism, fun - they're all part of the same thing in our game.
PCG: I'm being dumb here, but: will I be able to shoot things? There's nothing especially military that's be shown in the trailer or screenshots, but with the damage and ballistics modeling that you already have in place, it'd be a shame if it went to waste...
JC: Take On is certainly a civil-oriented game, but--given our experience with military-based gameplay--we can't help it if a few scenarios sneak in around the side! It's a little early to talk about specifics, but I can confirm that Take On Helicopters exists within the context and operates within the rules of the Armaverse--and we all know that a war or two broke out.
It's actually a stimulating challenge to have to think about crafting rewarding gameplay that doesn't end up with an opponent dead. It makes us look again at our design, evaluate the motivations and rewards for any given player, and find a balance between authenticity and action. Sure, we all know blowing shit up is fun, but where we have combat-oriented scenarios, they'll be in there for a reason.
PCG: Is your approach to terrain modeling in Take On identical to that of Arma 2, to take satellite-modeled data and tweak it to your purposes?
JC: Terrain on the scale of our American and South Asian worlds has required new technology and a re-evaluation of our map-making pipeline. For our games, we've never attempted to make anything this extensive, but--in simple terms--sure, we still take our data and apply careful tweaks, and yea, it still takes an eye-watering amount of time to get them fit for purpose! However, we've got some interesting new features in progress--in terms of the actual terrain and the human and physical 'environment' more generally - that we're really looking forward to being able to showcase as development continues. Terrain normal-mapping alone is an exciting new feature currently under development, which has the capacity to change the way our environments "feel."
What I would say right now, is that you can still land, get out your chopper and take a stroll around. In fact, some of our scenarios demand it! While our terrain is optimised for flying choppers, we're yet to see a helicopter game with our level of overall visual fidelity in the environment.
PCG: A skeptical gamer might say that storytelling isn't Bohemia's core competency. What makes Harry Larkin and a single-player campaign a necessary component of Take On?
JC: Good old (and dead) Harry Larkin aside, a single-player campaign is important to Take On for several reasons. It provides a core focus for our development. It really makes us think carefully about the gameplay: evaluating how it's introduced to the player; balancing the unfolding difficulty and freedom; focusing on the range and type of content we should create. More importantly, the narrative conveys a broader experience of helicopters to the player. We're not a flight-dynamics model with a few cheap lines of dialogue bolted on, nor are we setting up the game up to be narrative-heavy, per se; rather, we consider it to be a conduit for all the awesome experiences available. It's a thought-through, immersive showcase of our engine's capabilities--a springboard for users to create their own interesting scenarios.
In pre-production we noted that, within this genre, criticism was often directed towards the lack of focus upon a campaign or story--the narrative motivation alongside the gameplay. We believe that even our perhaps somewhat more limited storytelling abilities in terms of action games are still able to provide much a deeper and more motivating campaign than what people might normally expect from flight-sim type of game.
PCG: You're well-aware, but--we love co-op in ArmA. With multiplayer, what kinds of situations can we expect to find ourselves in?
JC: Well, we've certainly monitored PC Gamer's recent forays into multiplayer with great interest! Yeah, when it comes to the Arma series, multiplayer has been a big part of its ongoing success. For Take On, we have multi PvP and co-op gameplay in development, and we'll be evaluating the most enjoyable challenges and experiences from this and our single-player scenarios, feeding that analysis back into development when its appropriate to do so. At this stage, our legal team advises us that to neither confirm or deny the prototyping of a battlechopper.
PCG: An airborne cousin to our Battle Bus ? Yeah, I can get behind that. Okay, then--how many air vehicles do you think you'll have at launch? How many are helicopters that are already featured in ArmA?
JC: The stars of the show are definitely three core families of helicopter, within which multiple variants exist. All helicopters are brand new content, not seen in our previous titles. Focusing upon this range alows us to delicately adjust the feel and experience of each class of chopper. That's not to say each family flies the same, within this structure we can add more subtlety. Our goal remains to convey the experience of flying, and a big part of that is revealing--in a very tangible way--that each helicopter has its own feel and handling.
On top of that, each chopper may have unique components that significantly enhance the gamplay possibilities. It's too early to get into specifics, but we're talking about gameplay you just can't achieve within the Arma series. Similarly, the level of detail we're achieving goes beyond what we've seen before in the engine; helicopters always looked great in our game, now, we've got the opportunity to push that even further.
PCG: Is Bohemia working on any engine improvements/optimizations to the Arma engine for it to be tailored for Take On?
JC: Nailing down the helicopter experience demands a lot of work in terms of adding brand new features, refining more familiar ones, and optimising the game for flying helicopters. The buzzwords circulating around our studios alone goes some way to reveal the extent of the work at hand: picture in picture, increased view- and draw-distance, interactive cockpits, sling loads. But perhaps we've said enough for now! In fact, another cool aspect of Take On project is that it'll allow us to look at improving various aspects of our simulation technology that could potentially be integrated into some possible future games with a much larger scope.
PCG: What price point are you considering for Take On?
JC: Take On Helicopters is full-size game and, therefore, we expect it to have price point of a normal full PC game. Plus, we are considering some nice incentives online for our dedicated troops on the ground in Arma 2 that are interested in learning something new.
PCG: Thanks for your time, Jay.
[Jay Crowe begins to rotate independently from his torso up, then levitates out the window.]